Monday, October 25, 2010

Pakistan v South Africa T20 series preview

There will be plenty of subplots when Pakistan and South Africa take the field in the first of two Twenty20 matches in Abu Dhabi. Some eyes will be on Graeme Smith to see how he handles being back in the ranks after resigning the captaincy in this format, others will be on the form of players in coloured clothing as the World Cup approaches, but most will be on Pakistan as they begin life after the controversial tour of England.

The match-fixing saga continues to hang over Pakistan cricket, with the news that Mohammad Asif has dropped his appeal against his suspension dominating the build-up to what should be an interesting contest.

Its more immediate effect was shown in England, when the Pakistan squad bounced back to take a five-match ODI series to a decider. If that siege mentality is maintained, then the Proteas might struggle in conditions that suit the 2009 World Twenty20 champions more.

This increased determination to succeed is offset by the loss of Asif, Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir, three first choice players who are hard to replace in any format. The emergence of Asad Shafiq in England will soften the blow of Butt’s absence and it is likely to be trial by spin for South Africa, with major roles expected for Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and captain Shahid Afridi.

United Arab Emirates is Pakistan’s home venue nowadays, but Abu Dhabi is not a fortress for them. They have played 14 ODIs at the Sheikh Zayed stadium, winning eight and lost both their series at the venue last year, against Australia and New Zealand by a 2-1 scoreline. This is their first Twenty20 match at the ground.

South Africa have won all four Twenty20 matches since the world event in the Caribbean, albeit against West Indies and Zimbabwe, but this will be a stern test for a team in transition under the guidance of new captain Johan Botha. A win apiece would perhaps be an outcome that both teams would settle for.

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